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The Third Annual Catholic Congress: Addresses and Papers

Albany, New York, October 25, 26, 27, A.D. 1927

Philadelphia: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1927.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

The Congress Sermon

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also;
and greater works than these shall he do."—St. John 14: 12.

WHAT has come to be called the Catholic Movement, of which the present service is an expression, is one phase of the Oxford Movement which is now all but a century old. The principles of that Movement were clear from the outset—the vindication of the Catholicity of the Anglican Church. It was not so clear to the originators of the Movement all that was involved in their principles. That, of course, is true of all great movements of human thought; the starting point is clear; the end is hidden. The end is reached step by step by a process of development in the course of which what was involved in the principles originally accepted, is at length revealed. Often times the revelation contains more than was suspected—possibly more than was desired by the originators of the movement or by their first disciples. It is intelligible, therefore, that the leaders of the movement in one stage of its development shall be checked by and bitterly resent the complexion it is taking on in the hands of the younger generation. We can understand the leaders of the early stage of the Oxford Movement looking askance when they found it being, in the minds of many, compromised by the rise of "ritualism." We can understand the grief of Liddon and those who thought with him at the mental [10/11] attitude of the authors of Lux Mundi. We can understand, too, how today those who have been accustomed to consider themselves "sound High Churchmen" are hesitating at the growth and spread of Eucharistic Devotions, of Devotions to our Lady, and the like. Those of us who are passing from the stage will perhaps do well to look back and recall how we shocked our elders, how dangerous we were counted, in the days of our youthful enthusiasm, and not to be too ready to criticise our successors. Rather let us remember that we have represented one stage in a Movement and not the end of a dispensation. We should passionately desire that there should be no end in its progress till the goal is reached—the reunion of the Catholic Church of Jesus Christ.

Today the very name by which we call ourselves represents a distinct stage in the Movement. We call ourselves Anglo-Catholics. It is not a very good name, but names—our name of Christian—come by accident mostly. The name matters little if we understand its meaning. We are Catholics of a distinct tradition. Finding ourselves in the membership of a Body of violently criticised ancestry and of extremely mixed membership, we are under obligation to give an account of ourselves, to "vindicate the ways of God to men" in a position of some difficulty. A friend of mine noticing a priest in intimate and animated conversation with a lady who was apparently very deaf, asked what was going on. He was told that the priest was explaining to the lady the Anglican position. My friend said: "I should think it would be a very difficult thing to explain the Anglican position to a deaf person." Yet, that is our job; we are explaining our position to the deaf—it would be much simpler if they were also dumb. We are explaining to people who on the one hand are quite sure that we are [11/12] wrong because we are not in union with the Patriarchal See of the West; and on the other hand to those who are sure that we are wrong because we hope that at some time we may be.

We have, therefore, continually to explain ourselves and our seemingly anomalous position. To explain why we are this and not that. To explain that we are not Fundamentalists—that is, men who take their science from theologians; nor are we Modernists—that is, men who take their theology from scientists. We are Catholics who receive our knowledge of the material sequences of the universe from those whose business it is to study and to understand them; and who receive their knowledge of the mind of God from the Revelation made in His Son, Jesus Christ, as that Revelation is interpreted by the mind of the Universal Church. We are guided by experts. Our conception of authority is that it is the sentence of experts; the dogmas we accept are those that have been formulated by the united wisdom of "those who know."

To the Apostles, confronting with wonder the fact of miracles, our Lord said: "Ye shall do greater works than these." And at another time He gave them the key to the mystery of this saying when He promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit. He, the Spirit of Truth, would guide them into all truth. He it was who in the future would animate and energize them; confer upon them priceless gifts; gifts of healing and teaching; gifts of prophecy and government; this power to go forth and act in His name and with His commission. Saint Paul sums it up when he says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."

These gifts, wondrous in scope and power, are not temporary gifts; they are the permanent endowment of [12/13] the Church which is His Body; the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. The Church today has the same endowment as the Church of the Apostles, because it is the same Church, the same Body. Unfortunately, though it goes on daily performing the same greater works, we have lost something of the wonder of them and rather take them for granted. We still think of the works of Christ as of surpassing wonder—the raising of the dead, the healing of the sick, the feeding of the multitude. Wondrous, no doubt it was, to see the dead man rise up from the bier and our Lord take His hand and deliver him to his mother; but what is that to the wonder of the work that is daily wrought in the Church when the child is brought to the font and the priest pours water upon it and says: "This child is regenerated," born again, a new creation, a new member of the Body of Christ. Wondrous was the healing of the sick when the leper felt the thrill of restored strength pass through all his members, and knew that the awfulness of the fate that had for years hung over him had passed away. But what is that to the wonder of the experience of the soul that kneels in the confessional and hears the words of deliverance which lifts from the soul the burden of its sin—"By His power committed unto me, I absolve you from all your sins." Wonderful was the work of the multiplied loaves that fed the thousands in the wilderness. But what was that to the daily wonder of the altar where are changed the bread and wine to be the Body and the Blood of Christ whereby we are fed unto everlasting life? "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works shall he do."

These wonderful works go on day by day in the ordinary ministry of the Church. They are all means to an end. [13/14] They are instituted as helps to enable us to fulfill our essential vocation as Christians: "Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." They are means of sanctification, of the attainment of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. The Church is here in the world for the purpose of creating saints. So far as it does this it is successful. Ultimately, there is no other test of success. It is of the last importance that we never lose sight of this fact. So far as the Church has ever lost sight of it, it has failed; failed when it has made its ambition numbers or wealth or power.

It is one of our constant mistakes to confuse the means with the end. We stop at the means. Is not that one of the chief causes of the ineffectiveness of the Churches of the Anglican Communion? As we trace the teaching tradition of that Church, do we not find the great emphasis on dogma with a relatively light emphasis on the proper results of dogma? The proper result of dogma is not orthodoxy but sanctity. Yet is the chief stress there at any period?

Why did the High Churchmen of the Stuart period fail to reach the masses of the English people and go down in wreck before the Puritan revolution? I think that if you will read the sermons of that period you will find at least one of the elements of their failure. These sermons, stuffed with Hebrew and Greek and Latin, filled with patristic learning, implying hours of delivery, what effect could they have had on the majority of the hearers, save drowsiness?

Go down to the period of the Restoration and read the volumes of controversy—anti-papal, anti-protestant—do you think that they were promotive of righteousness, [14/15] that they did anything to stem the tide of corruption that flooded England of the Restoration?

Read in the eighteenth century the vast tomes of dreary morality of the "be good, and you'll be happy" sort, and you cease to wonder at the vast amount of drinking that was a feature of the eighteenth century life. Sermons, till you reached the Evangelical revival, were addressed to the head and not to the heart.

The Oxford Movement came very near striking the same rock and ending in the same failure. Only with difficulty did it shake off the academic tone. It was well called tractarian. Tracts, Tracts, Tracts, did you ever try to read them? Ever try to read a tract by Dr. Pusey? Wonderful scholarship. Back of it the devoted life of sane patience which was the salvation of the movement. But—Academic Oxford. Not slums of London and Manchester. Suppose the Movement had never got beyond tracts? It would have, in that case, remained Oxford Movement and would not have become Anglo-Catholic.

What saved the Movement from dying of intellectualism?—Its translation from Oxford to the slum. It was the men who said, Tracts are fine; dogmas are all very true; but what about it? Are we going to be saved, is anyone going to be saved, by getting the proper dogma? If dogmas are well and theories are true, let's put them into operation. Let's do something. If the theory of the Eucharist is true, let us say Mass every day; let us put on vestments and light candles and perform ceremonies that show what we mean. If what you teach about repentance is true, let us call people to repentance in a practical way; let us build confessionals and hear confessions. If Jesus Christ is really present in the Sacrament of the Altar, let us get down on our knees and worship Him; let us call people together to meet Him here in His temple. So said simple priests in parishes.

[16] But the great founders and the episcopal onlookers said: "Be careful. You are spoiling everything. You are going too far. You are alienating men. You are compromising the Movement." And the Roses and the Palmers and the Wilberforces and the Hooks went back and walked no more with the Movement.

It was the men who did things, who translated theory into practice, dogma into life—who saved the Movement from dying an academic death.

Are we in the same danger today? The danger of stressing dogma and stopping? One fancies so from much of the criticism that one hears of the Catholic Religion as a dogmatic religion. Such criticism has point only where men find in the presentation of religion dogma and nothing more. Where they find dogma linked up with conduct they cannot think that. Where they find the Mass the center of worship; where they find the altar thronged with communicants; where they find crowds about the tabernacle; where they find people kneeling before the Presence; where they find days of prayer, of devotion, of retreat; then they understand that dogma is not mere dogma, but energy and life.

And not only must dogma work out in sacramental practices and devotions, but it must work out in a certain sort of life—daily life. All dogmas must be translated into activity; they must be brought out of the church into the open; they must be visibly incarnate in the lives of those who profess them. And here is where I am afraid that we Catholics are in danger of failure; failure in the application of that which we profess to be our religion to the details of daily life. We preach and profess the Gospel in the Church, but in action we do not seem to get much beyond the moral standard of the group to which we belong. From much that one hears in so-called Catholic circles, one infers that stress on the [16/17] moral life is regarded as Puritan—that we testify to our Catholic character by a certain moral indifference. We are rather markedly indifferent to the great moral issues that characterize the present period of unrest.

Our Lord has been depicted in a good many ways. In His own time He was depicted as "a gluttonous man and a wine bibber." Recently in a book very widely circulated He has been depicted (to quote a recent author) as "the ideal go-getter of the jazz-town rotary club." Again He is depicted as the patron saint of the bootlegger. We need to get back to the man who said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me"; to the Man who said: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Among the "greater works" that we are promised power to accomplish surely there are to be reckoned the works of self-conquest and self-discipline, the training of our powers, the transforming of our character, that we may be the fit representative of Him whose servants we profess to be.

Catholicity is not and cannot be an individual thing, it is social and the true Catholic is an energetic force for righteousness in the community to which he belongs. He is a Christian citizen. He is visualizing all questions from a Christian point of view.

Not only is teaching the Christian Religion an obligation that we have accepted, but at the same time we have accepted the serious obligation of living it. Living the Christian Religion under the conditions of modern life is not an easy matter. It is a matter that requires self-restraint and sacrifice. We have to set ourselves against a good deal that is accepted without question in modern life. To do that involves consequences. A number of years ago a well-known priest, addressing a group of clergy of the Episcopal Church on the subject of the [17/18] difficulties of parish life, said, "I have never been afraid of the laity; I am not married; I can eat mush and sleep on a board." That is perhaps a capacity that we need to cultivate. We have tried to push the Church by compromise with society long enough to know that compromise is a failure. We have shrunk from being odd and different. It is time to try to succeed by some other method. Perhaps the mush-and-board method would succeed. It did once. By it the Church converted the Roman Empire—and nearly died of its own success.

I would appeal to Anglo-Catholics on that platform; the platform of a Catholic life. That we should make it impossible that we be any longer known as those who indulge in certain ceremonial habits which would be harmless did they not indicate a certain Romeward tendency, or lay stress on certain doctrines which are unusual in the Episcopal Church; but as those who stand first of all for certain fundamental principles of living, to whom holiness is the supreme quality and vocation of the Christian, the reason of his existence and the condition of his attainment of his end.

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